|Trip Length:||2 days, 1 night|
|Best time to visit:||November to March, Spring and Summer. The weather could be changeable. Clothing layers are recommended.|
On the banks of the Mangaroa River, on a side road is Ohura. Your journey starts with an exploration of a largely abandoned town. The main street is bereft of operating shops. The supermarket, hairdressers, garden centre, general merchandise, cafe and petrol station are all closed, some with fading signs about the option of purchase or rental. After Ohura you rejoin SH43 for spectacular scenery, waterfalls and perhaps one of the world’s narrowest vehicular tunnels.
Ohura’s main street is attractive with planted trees and still mowed the central median.
There is civic pride in the town of just over 100 people.
Originally an area of Maori settlements with walking tracks between the Taranaki coast and Taumarunui using the Ohura River valley as a main access was the beginning of human settlement.
Te Rukirangi Marae and Papakainga meeting house is located in Ohura.
Coal brought more than 5,000 people to the area and Ohura flourished with schools, churches, a railway station and a bustling main street.
The state owned mines closed in the early 1970’s and the town’s fortunes plummeted.
Then the railway line ceased.
A New Zealand ghost town where people have walked away from the main street leaving lives and possession behind.
Enterprise has not died as the mobile coffee cart attests.
Check out our article about forgotten towns.
TIP: Ohura to State Highway 43 route
Ohura to Tangarakau, to junction State Highway 43 (Forgotten Highway) to Whangamomona.
Ohura to SH43
Continue through Ohura (Mangaroa Road), with Mangaroa stream views to join the Forgotten Highway, 43.
The road passes over the Waitaanga saddle. This part of the journey is very picturesque and not as travelled as the first section of SH43 leaving Taumarunui.
Definitely worth the detour from Taumarunui to Ohura.
This part of the journey is beautiful, with large tracts of native forest interspersed with bright emerald grass, sheep or dairy stock.
Usually the Forgotten Highway route is directly connected to Taumarunui. The majesty of the Wanganui River, at Taumarunui is being missed as is the well known Lavender Farm.
For enthusiasts perhaps a night in Taumarunui will give you the time to complete a white water rafting trip on the Wanganui River with a stop at the Lavender Farm.Laurens Lavender Local Activities Around Laurens Lavender Farm.
Lauren’s Lavender Farm offers you a range of local activities including a bush walk down to the Whanganui River where the Taumarunui Jet Boat and canoeists There are 87 steps down to the landing on the river and two waterfalls.
Mt Damper Falls
Explore walks and tracks such as Mt Damper Falls, this is a must do waterfall fan stop.
Mt Damper falls Mount Damper Falls Walk: Walking and tramping in Mount Damper and Waitaanga Conservation Area are the second highest in New Zealand. Mount Damper Falls walk has steep stairs down to view the lower cascade of water. It is likely you will be a solitary walker on the track. It is very quiet with birdsong accompanying your footsteps. You can hear the roar, rush and tempo of cascading water well before you see the waterfall. A sense of anticipation about what is around the next set of steps makes the climb easier. If you only want to participate in one walk check out Mt Damper Falls. Composting toilet situated in car park.
The walk starts from Mount Damper Falls car park, on the Okau Road off SH3, 59 km north of New Plymouth. Side roads are unsealed and narrow, caution is needed going around sharp corners.
TIP: Check the status of a walk before you start. The track is closed to hunters every year from 1 August to 31 October for the lambing season.
The Forgotten Highway is now an unsealed gravel road.
Slow down and use the roadside stops to ponder the difficulty facing people whose form of transport was either fast flowing rivers or walking over the rugged terrain.
The description “overlooked highway” is apt.
Trestle supports the Forgotten Highway Railway Track. Stratford–Okahukura Line is a secondary railway line in the North Island of New Zealand, between the Marton – New Plymouth Line (MNPL) and the North Island Main Trunk (NIMT) Railway, with 15 intermediate stations.
It is 144 km (89 mi) long through difficult country, with 24 tunnels, 91 bridges and a number of sections of 1 in 50 grade.
Near Okahukura there is an unusual combined road-rail bridge over the Ongarue River, with the one-lane road carriageway below the single rail track.
The line is not currently in service for rail traffic and is under a 30-year lease for a tourist venture, Forgotten World Adventures.
Tangarakau is definitely a ghost town, you need your imagination to visualize the settlement as there is nothing to see today. Originally built as a railway settlement for workers. It is worth the detour to drive down the narrow gravel road to the original railway settlement, now a holiday campground. Keep a lookout for a sign for Raekohua Falls. The area is picturesque, there are walks to the river and the local honey is superb. For kayaking and rafting enthusiastics (with their own gear it is a great opportunity to navigate down New Zealand’s historic Maori water highways.
Railway history of Tangarakau.
A new railway line was ordered by the Government in 1898, from Stratford through Whangamomona, joining up with the Main Trunk at Okahukura near Taumarunui. Work began in 1901 from Stratford and wasn’t to reach Okahukura for 32 years. The line’s progress was hampered by political indifference, World War I and the difficult terrain the construction gangs had to cope with. Using primitive methods of pick axe and shovel and working in sometimes atrocious conditions men set out from Stratford to take as direct a line as possible to the Main Trunk.
Frontier life in New Zealand was a harsh landscape. Dirt roads, shanty towns and hard manual labour created a society that was founded on hard work, where people worked hard and played hard. Could you imagine working 12 hours per day cutting trees down with a saw, or hammering in new railway tracks with a sledgehammer?
Where did they go?
Tangarakau was a thriving town, built for the need to accommodate the workers and equipment needed for the construction of the railway. However, when the railway was commissioned and there was no longer need for workers in the area, the Tangarakau township became a ghost town, almost overnight.
The information above is part of the online Bushlands Holiday Park information pack. The Bushlands Holiday Park is your accommodation overnight option. You will be assured a warm welcome from the owners and managers of the holiday park. The original settler homes have disappeared into the recycling world of improvise and reuse. The large flat area of the current campground was where the settlement’s businesses operated.
Whangamomona Hotel is a tourist hot spot Forgotten Highway style. I counted fifteen people in the hotel and vicinity. People, cars and bikes parked by the pub to obtain a passport stamp. Fee is ($2 fee) for proof you have entered the Republic of Whangamomona. A quirky resilient settlement resisting economic decline with its reinvention as a tourist hot spot. Whangamomona has kept its rural charm yet makes a seriously good coffee. Classics such as burger and fries, fish or steak are menu favourites.
Whangamomona resisted the change in local council government, from Taranaki to Manawatu with residents declaring Whangamomona a republic in 1989. The Republic Day is now celebrated biennially in January attracting thousands of visitors. The town has an elected president. A goat was elected president in 1999. Billy the Kid lasted a couple of terms before dying in office and although no one’s been charged, it did look suspicious. Other presidents have included a dog and a Czech shearer. The museum in town is located in the McCluggage Store, it’s full of curiosities, artefacts that needed a good final resting place. Don’t worry if it is not labelled and described museum-style. Just guess and enjoy the wander around. Donations are welcome to support the collecting effects. The pub is also full of old photos and things that look useful circa 1900’s.
Explore Whangamomona district. Hotel reception will be able to provide excellent up to date information. Do not miss the abandoned Catholic church just before the campground on Whangamomona Rd which starts by the hotel. The walk has pastoral and river views. You are walking on a paper road, closed to traffic. Walk past the pub on Whangamomona Rd, past the campground; this paper road is open to the public and provides a 55km loop of pastoral walking, cycling or motorcycling.
Experience Purangi. You can enjoy this walk at your leisure. We ask for a $10 donation per person which goes towards our kiwi project. The Otunahe Scenic Reserve (approx 70 hectares) is a private QEII-covenanted reserve which lies on the farm property of Bob and Karen Schumacher. Both the farm and the reserve are within the much larger predator-controlled area cared for by the East Taranaki Environment Trust (ETET).
The reserve is a wonderful example of mature native forest. The area has a rich biodiversity and is home to many of our native species including fernbird, bellbird, tui, kereru, New Zealand Robin, New Zealand Falcon, whitehead and of course the kiwi. Please note: you won’t see or hear the kiwi because they are nocturnal and shy and they are asleep in their burrows – but you might see footprints, droppings or probe holes in the soil. There are several walking tracks. Otunahe track and Hidden Valley Track which is suitable for children.
Departing the Republic of Whangamomona, think about the harsh conditions for the men employed in the late 1800’s living in tents for over a decade to build the communications networks of rail tracks and roads. At the Strathmore Saddle stop at the lookouts signposted and get the camera ready for spectacular views of the volcanoes of Tongariro, Ruapehu, Ngaurahoe and Taranaki. You can almost feel the ferocity of volcanic eruptions observing the horizons with volcanic mountains embracing the horizon.
Explore the side roads, stop and view the landscapes, take the side roads and go on a tunnel hunt.
It is definitely worth a drive through.
TIP: Do not rely on google maps as mobile coverage is sporadic.
TIP: Ensure you have downloaded a map or have a physical paper copy road map of the area before departing Taumarunui.
Makahu Tunnel was the main access to the Makahu and Puniwhakau Valleys in the early 1990’s.
You can still view the hand cut sides, the timber trusses supporting the tunnel.
It is very narrow and an adventure to drive or walk through. Walking, be careful as visibility for oncoming vehicles is very poor.
The tunnel is about 15 km from your destination Strathmore, take a side road to Makahu and continue on to Upper Mangaehu Road.
Bridge to Somewhere
The Aotuhia Bridge to Somewhere is best accessed via Makahu via Strathmore. This road also takes you to the Matemateaonga Track. Access to the bridge via the 18km long unsealed Whangamomona Road is strictly for the dedicated 4WD, motorbike, mountain bike or the intrepid hiker. Ask at hotel about road conditions before embarking on this trip
Your journey finishes in Stratford. A quiet town with a chiming clock as its centrepiece attraction. A place where tourists probably do not stop, rather continue to drive through to New Plymouth or Wellington.